Welcome to STEM Tuesday: Author Interview & Book Giveaway, a repeating feature for the fourth Tuesday of every month. Go Science-Tech-Engineering-Math!
Today we’re interviewing Amy Cherrix, author of EYE OF THE STORM: NASA, Drones, and the Race to Crack the Hurricane Code.
Mary Kay Carson: Tell us a bit about Eye of the Storm and how you came to write it.
Amy Cherrix: Eye of the Storm is the story of an elite group of NASA meteorologists and the Hurricane Severe Storm Sentinel mission (HS3). These scientists and engineers re-purposed military drones to conduct high-altitude hurricane research. This Global Hawk drone was built for use in dry climates. Global Hawk is so delicate, it cannot take off during so much as a light rain shower, yet it can fly safely high above hurricanes–the most violent storms in nature’s arsenal. How’s that for irony? The drone is loaded with remote control science instruments that measure humidity, air pressure, temperature, and more. The Global Hawk’s pilot flies the aircraft using a computer mouse and keyboard from a control room on the ground that is hundreds, or thousands, of miles away from the aircraft.
I stumbled onto this incredible story while engaging in my favorite Saturday morning activity. I love to pour a big cup of coffee and surf the NASA.gov website (an activity I highly recommend to science enthusiasts and story writers). When I read about the HS3 mission, I knew I had a great book idea on my hands. I sent emails to the mission’s principal investigators and within an hour, replies from NASA were pouring into my inbox. NASA is a public agency and its scientists love to share their work. I accepted a generous invitation from the mission’s principal investigator, Dr. Scott Braun, and visited NASA’s Wallops Flight Facility on the coast of Virginia to observe the mission. I interviewed drone pilots, engineers, meteorologists, and mechanics. Every single person was deeply invested in the mission’s success. It was inspiring.
MKC: Anything you’d like to share about the time you spent with researchers while writing this book?
Amy: The scariest part of writing this book was not knowing if the team would have a hurricane to study while I was visiting Wallops Flight Facility. What would I write about if nothing happened while I was there? But sometimes, things just work out for the best. Hurricane Edouard formed soon after my arrival and was the best storm the HS3 team had studied to date! It was an ideal sample, staying far out to sea, not threatening land, and it spun for days. They were thrilled and it was an unexpected honor to be present at such a high-point of the mission.
MKC: Why do you choose to write STEM books?
Amy: I write STEM stories because I have always been insatiably curious about science and the natural world. When human beings try to overcome the forces of nature—whether it’s gravity, or the weather—challenges abound. Scientists confront these impossible challenges everyday. That’s their job. I’m fascinated by that kind of determination, patience, and persistence.
MKC: For readers who loved The Eye of the Storm, what other middle-grade books would you suggest?
Amy: I highly recommend every book in Houghton Mifflin’s Scientists in the Field series, of which Eye of the Storm, is a part. There’s something for everyone; thrilling stories about science in the fields of geology, biology, seismology, meteorology, genetics; just about any branch of science you can imagine. These books show young readers that science is much more than a white coat and a laboratory. Science is adventure!
MKC: Could you share where you are right now on a current project and how you’re approaching it?
Amy: I’m working on a new STEM picture book series for Beach Lane Books called Amazing Animals. I just finished the first book in the series that publishes on September 7, 2021 called Animal Architects, illustrated by Chris Sasaki. Many animals, both on land and in the sea, build amazing structures to help them trap food, attract mates, or hide from predators. From undersea cities of coral, to a mother penguin’s palace of pebbles, the natural world is a construction zone. I spent months reading books, watching nature videos, taking notes, and studying photographs to collect their stories. The second book, Animal Superpowers, publishes in fall 2022. I approached Animal Architects with a spirit of wonder. I wanted to inspire readers’ curiosity. To do that, I created a list of the various structures animals and insects build. Then I imagined what questions young readers might ask of nature’s builders. The answers I found surprised me at every turn. For example, before writing this book, I’d never given termites a second thought. But I learned that some species of termites build giant, naturally air-conditioned towers. How cool is that? These tiny insects work together as a colony to build a home that helps them survive as a group. We can learn a lot from nature. I hope this new series inspires young readers to ask their own questions about the natural world, and consider what actions they can take to protect our planet and its creatures.
Win a FREE copy of EYE OF THE STORM!
Enter the giveaway by leaving a comment below. The randomly-chosen winner will be contacted via email and asked to provide a mailing address (within the U.S. only) to receive the book.
Your host is Mary Kay Carson, author of Wildlife Ranger Action Guide, The Tornado Scientist, Alexander Graham Bell for Kids, Mission to Pluto, and other nonfiction books for kids. @marykaycarson